Two months after her 11-year-old son tried to hang himself with a bed sheet, a South Side mother has filed a federal lawsuit against the Chicago Board of Education and the elementary school administrators and teachers who she claims ignored — and sometimes joined — the chronic bullying that pushed the boy to attempt suicide.
Carter G. Woodson Elementary fourth grader Jamari Dent suffered permanent brain damage in the Feb. 18 attempt and remains hospitalized on a ventilator. It could have been prevented if officials hadn’t “ignored his mother’s desperate pleas to protect her young son,” according to the suit filed by Teirra Black on Wednesday in Chicago’s U.S. District Court.
“My son is not the same,” Black said Thursday outside La Rabida Children’s Hospital, where Jamari is expected to stay for at least another three months. “He’s like a whole, totally different child.”
The bullying started early in 2018 while Jamari, a special education student, was enrolled at Evers Elementary School on the Far South Side, according to the suit, which identifies the boy as J.D.
Teachers and students “repeatedly called [J.D.] ‘stupid,’ ‘dumb’ and ‘retarded’ and joked that he would end up at a facility for students with mental disabilities,” the suit says.
An Evers teacher listed as a defendant in the suit allegedly egged on his classmates, joining in by calling him “dirty,” “nappy-headed,” and asking Jamari if his “brillo hair was the reason he couldn’t read,” the suit says.
Black claims that teacher hit Jamari in February, prompting her to transfer him to Woodson Elementary in Bronzeville — but things only got worse, by her account.
Three teachers struck the boy on separate occasions that left marks during encounters that went unchecked by the principal with “deliberate indifference,” the suit alleges, as did persistent verbal abuse from other students and security guards.
Things came to a head in December when a group of students jumped the boy in class, and no one from the school ever called Black, the suit says.
The mother repeatedly called the principal and CPS officials, and she complained in person to the Board of Education, all to no avail, the suit says.
Jamari’s 9-year-old sister found him hanging from a coat hook with a bed sheet tied around his neck inside their home, the suit says, calling it the culmination of months of “physical violence, psychological abuse, bullying, harassment, and aggressive behavior.”
The boy can’t walk or talk and can only communicate through slight head movements, Black said.
Chicago Public Schools officials declined to comment on the ongoing litigation, or the employment status of the two principals and four teachers listed as defendants in the suit.
In February, the district said it had launched “a full investigation” into Black’s “highly concerning” allegations and wouldn’t hesitate to hold adults accountable if they were found to have violated CPS’ anti-bullying policy.
“This is a horrible tragedy, and the thoughts and prayers of the Chicago Public Schools community are with Jamari and his loved ones,” district spokesman Michael Passman said then.
The two principals and four teachers named as defendants in the suit could not immediately be reached for comment.
“They shouldn’t be working at this school still. None of them,” Black said.
Black’s attorney, Jon Erickson, said Jamari’s case is part of an “epidemic” of neglect for special-needs students in a CPS special ed program being overseen by a state-mandated special monitor.
“The shocking conduct and deliberate indifference perpetrated in this case by CPS teachers and officials were not limited to J.D.,” the suit says. “Violent attacks and deliberate indifference by CPS teachers and administrators towards special needs students at Woodson and other Chicago public schools are not uncommon.”
Black’s 12-count suit seeks an unspecified amount in damages.